Monster Hunter


Just a couple of video game characters come to life.

(2020) Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Tony Jaa, Ron Perlman, Tip “T.I.” Harris, Diego Boneta, Meagan Good, Josh Helman, Jin Au-Yeung, Hirona Yamazaki, Jannik Schümann, Nanda Costa, Nic Rasenti, Clyde Berning, Paul Hampshire, Schelaine Bennett, Bart Fouche, Pope Jerrod, Aaron Beelner, Onur Besen, Adrian Muñoz. Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

Video games are video games and movies are movies, and these are two worlds that have a very hard time co-existing. Video games based on movies tend to be awful, and movies based on video games tend to be the same. That’s because movies demand attention, patience and passivity, whereas video games demand participation, interaction and hand-eye co-ordination. The are meant for completely different audiences and require completely different disciplines to appreciate. Successful crossovers are rare indeed.

Which makes Anderson something of a national treasure because he has shown with the Resident Evil franchise that he can make entertaining movies out of a beloved game franchise. Capcom, the makers of the Resident Evil game, can be excused for turning to him to bring their second-most popular franchise to the big screen.

Lt. Natalie Artemis (Jovovich) leads the elite Alpha Team of U.S. Army Rangers into the desert to search for the slightly-less elite Bravo Team which has mysteriously disappeared. Quicker than you can say “plot device,” a mysterious portal (accompanied by an impressive CGI lightning storm) somehow transports the team into a parallel world, one inhabited by strange, vicious – and hungry – monsters. As they are attacked by the horned and deadly Black Diablos, they quickly realize that their arsenal isn’t nearly enough to take down the giant creatures and as they run for the comparative safety of the rocks, they discover to their horror that the safety is an illusion as the rocks are inhabited by giant spider-like things. The team is decimated, leaving only Artemis alive and that only because she is rescued by the Hunter (Jaa), whom we first met in the pre-credits sequence that is perhaps the most impressive moment in the film.

The two form an uneasy alliance, trying to survive in a world for which the word “hostile” doesn’t even begin to describe. They are eventually picked up by a sand galleon, a kind of floating pirate ship captained by the Admiral (Perlman) who delivers a fair amount of exposition, and explains that both their worlds are in danger and they must head to the Dark Tower in Mordor…no, that’s not quite right. But it’s a dark tower nevertheless.

This is the kind of role that is right in the wheelhouse for Jovovich and she dutifully knocks it out of the park. Her chemistry with Jaa is surprisingly strong, considering that the two characters speak different languages. I would have wished that Jaa got more opportunities to show off his martial arts skills, which are considerable, but he makes the most of the opportunities he does get.

Perlman is always a welcome sight in any film, even if he is wearing a giggle-inducing wig that they probably had to pay him a bundle to wear with a straight face. Fortunately, it is the monsters that are the stars here. Fans of the game will recognize them and we get a good idea of their scale here throughout. We get a few more in the third act of the film, including the Meowscular Chef (who is, as advertised, absolutely ripped) but the filmmakers have the luxury of several hundred to choose from through the seven (and counting) main games and the plethora of spin-offs.

Do you need to know something about the franchise to enjoy the movie? That is always the question in video game adaptations. Like most adaptations, fans will find it easier to understand than non-fans, and in this case, I think it’s almost imperative you have at least a general knowledge of the game to follow the plot.  Fans, though, might find it a bit too simplistic for their tastes; it is, after all, like starting at the beginning of the first game for the first time. That may not be of interest to gamers in general.

Don’t get me wrong; you don’t have to be a fan of the game to enjoy the ride here. The monsters are as I said incredible, Jovovich and Jaa make a great team and if you can get past the mid-movie exposition dump that helps catch you up (if you know nothing about the game) but unfortunately causes the movie to come to a screeching halt, you should be pretty much okay. This isn’t horror that is essential, nor is it one of the better cinematic adaptations of a video game out there, but it is nonetheless a decent enough one and worth a look if you’re looking for a bit of fun, visceral and essentially mindless entertainment.

REASONS TO SEE: The monsters are mega-impressive.
REASONS TO AVOID: A muddled plot that isn’t easy to follow without some knowledge of the game.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of violence, creature-induced terror and some profanity.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This is the seventh movie based on a video game that Jovovich has appeared in, six of them with her husband Paul W.S. Anderson involved as writer and/or director.
BEYOND THE THEATERS: Amazon, AMC On Demand, AppleTV, DirecTV, Google Play, Microsoft, Spectrum, Starz, Vudu, YouTube
CRITICAL MASS: As of 10/30/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 45% positive reviews; Metacritic: 47/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Pitch Black
FINAL RATING: 6.5/10
NEXT:
Six Days of Darkness Concludes with a Classic!

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Werewolves Within


Ranger Finn doesn’t axe for much.

(2021) Horror Comedy (IFC) Sam Richardson, Milana Vayntrub, George Basil, Sarah Burns, Michael Chernus, Catherine Curtin, Wayne Duvall, Harvey Guillén, Rebecca Henderson, Cheyenne Jackson, Michaela Watkins, Glenn Fleshler, Patrick M. Walsh Jr., Anni Krueger. Directed by Josh Ruben

 

Sometimes, it’s the simplest things that can make for an enjoyable movie. A group of people, trapped by a snowstorm, with a remorseless killer among them. Who’s going to survive? And which one is the killer? And is that killer a werewolf?

The town of Beaverfield, Vermont is known for maple syrup, and little else. Forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Richardson) has been sent there to take over the job for the local national forest, and believe me, it’s no promotion. He is naïve to an almost epic degree, not realizing that his girlfriend Charlotte (Krueger) has dumped him He is, however, fortunate enough to meet the town postal worker, Cecily (Vayntrub) early on. She knows all the secrets of the quirky townspeople; the genial innkeeper Jeanine (Curtin) whose husband has apparently run off with a waitress, which has left her mumbling to herself; the power tech couple Devon (Jackson) and Joaquim (Guillén) who have opened up a yoga studio in a town that is disinterested in it; the conservatives Pete (Chernus) and Trisha (Watkins); gas station-owning rednecks Marcus (Basil) and Sarah (Burns); reclusive ecologist Dr. Ellis (Henderson) who is opposing the building of a natural gas pipe line by Sam Parker (Duvall) which has divided the town into opposing camps, and then there’s the trapper Emerson (Fleshler) who has a sign “Trespass and Die” on his property which is sincerely meant. He basically hates anything walking on two legs and a lot of things on four legs. Don’t get me started on things on more legs than that.

When a vicious snowstorm hits effectively sealing off the town from any outside help, all of the generators are sabotaged with what appear to be massive claw marks left behind, although a diesel-stained knife may have been used in the destruction. When townspeople start turning up murdered (including Jeanine’s missing husband), Dr. Ellis comes up with a startling declaration – the culprit is a werewolf.

The movie’s cast is probably not well-known but they do sterling work. Best of them is Richardson, a Veep alumnus who reminded me strongly of Saturday Night Live standout Kenan Thompson. Vayntrub, best-known for her long running AT&T commercials as well as a stint on This Is Us, also scores points as the perky postal worker with a touch of Manic Pixie Dream Girl to her DNA.

While you’d never know this was a video game adaptation unless you are conversant with some of the Virtual Reality games available for Oculus Rift, the movie gets points for atmosphere as well. The humor is for the most part pretty on target, although a few bits fall flat. There is some social commentary with the town’s divide along party lines mirroring that of the rest of the country. Cecily’s love for kombucha will likely date the movie a bit though.

The movie has some blood, but isn’t gory enough to make sensitive sorts recoil. All in all, this is one of those horror movies that just about anyone can watch and have a great time, even those who aren’t fond of horror.

While the movie is now playing on a limited release basis, it will be expanding to VOD starting next Friday July 2nd. Check your favorite streaming platform or on-demand provider for prices and availability.

REASONS TO SEE: Richardson reminds me a bit of SNL’s Kenan Thompson. The humor mostly works.
REASONS TO AVOID: Overdoes the quirkiness in places.
FAMILY VALUES: There is plenty of profanity, violence (most of it bloody) and some sexual references.
TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Wayne Duvall, who plays the pipeline developer Sam Parker, is a cousin to actor Robert Duvall.
CRITICAL MASS: As of 6/27/2021: Rotten Tomatoes: 82% positive reviews; Metacritic: 65/100.
COMPARISON SHOPPING: Freaks of Nature
FINAL RATING: 7.5/10
NEXT:
The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It

Resident Evil: Afterlife


Resident Evil: Afterlife

A triple treat for Milla Jovovich fans!

(2010) Sci-Fi Horror Action (Screen Gems) Milla Jovovich, Aly Larter, Kim Coates, Shawn Roberts, Sergio Peris-Mencheta, Spencer Locke, Boris Kodjoe, Wentworth Miller, Sienna Guillory, Kacey Barnfield, Norman Yeung, Fulvio Cecere, Ray Olubuwale.  Directed by Paul W.S. Anderson

The term “popcorn movies” refers to movies that are kind of lightweight, don’t require a lot of thought and are thoroughly entertaining. For some critics, popcorn movies are a dirty word. For moviegoers however, they are often the reason they go to the multiplex in the first place.

Alice (Jovovich), the superhuman T-virus recipient of the Umbrella Corporation, invades their Tokyo facility with a small army of her clones in order to take out Albert Wesker (Roberts), the malevolent CEO who unleashed the horror of undead flesh eaters on the world and effectively instituted Armageddon.

Wesker escapes but not before infecting Alice with an antidote to the T-Virus, effectively taking away all her superhuman attributes and rendering her human once again. At a crossroads, she decides to fly to Alaska to link up with the friends she sent up there to find Arcadia, the reputed safe haven for non-infected humans. Instead, she is attacked by her friend Claire Redfield (Larter) who has a strange device strapped on her. Alice manages to defeat Claire and take off the device, but Claire has lost most of her memories of what happened to her teammates that went up there with her.

They decide to follow the Arcadia signal which is now down in Los Angeles. There they find a group of survivors in a high security prison surrounded by zombies. The ragtag band is led by Luther West (Kodjoe), a former pro basketball player. Among them is Bennett (Coates), a self-centered former film producer, Yong (Yeung) his assistant, Crystal Waters (Barnfield), a former actress, Angel (Peris-Mencheta) a mechanic and incarcerated in the prison, Chris Redfield (Miller), Claire’s brother (small world, ain’t it).

Alice finds out that Arcadia is actually a tanker that has been moving up and down the West Coast, picking up survivors as it goes along. The plan is then to get themselves there and try to make it past the horde of survivors that surrounds them, among whom is the Executioner, a gigantic zombie carrying a gigantic hammer.

Chris claims to know an alternative way out. First, they would need to get a mobile infantry vehicle ready which Angel, Bennett and Yong are tasked to do. Second, they would need to reinforce the front gate to buy them more time to get ready, which is Luther and Claire’s job. Finally, they needed weapons and Chris, Crystal and Alice go to the armory to retrieve them.

However, their time is running out. Zombies are beginning to find ways into the prison through the sewers. The gates are failing. They are about to be betrayed from within. And once they make it to Arcadia, what is it that they are going to find there? New hope? Or a new betrayal?

Anderson, who directed the original Resident Evil and has written or co-written all of the movies in the franchise, returns to the director chair for the second time and takes the series, which had begun to look moribund after the last two movies, and revitalizes it. The action moves at a frenetic pace here and the opening Tokyo sequence is one of the best in the entire series in terms of mayhem.

One of the main reasons for seeing any of the Resident Evil movies is Jovovich. She is a genuine action star, as good as Linda Hamilton in her day or Angelina Jolie currently. Jovovich does most of her own stunts, but also is beautiful and charismatic onscreen. Going back to her days in The Fifth Element she has become one of the more reliable actresses when it comes to action movies. She’s also capable of dramatic acting, although she doesn’t get many of those sorts of roles these days.

I might have liked to have a bit more exposition in terms of some of the mutant zombies. The Executioner, for example, just shows up at the prison gate. How did he get so huge? What’s his backstory? Gamers might know the answer, or they might not care but a movie audience requires a bit more substance.

The movie kicks ass, which for the most part is all anybody picking up a disc or streaming it is after. Who’s gonna argue with a small group of attractive people kicking zombie and monster ass? Not me, I can tell you. The movie works the way it’s supposed to and leaves room for a sequel that brings back Jill Valentine (Guillory), reason enough to make fans of the series giddy. Although a giddy gamer can be a site far more terrifying than any flesh eating zombie.

WHY RENT THIS: High octane action and Jovovich make a lethal combination.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: Not a lot of character development and monsters show up without explanation other than for kick-ass value.

FAMILY VALUES: Big time violence, some fairly foul language and a few disturbing images make this one I’d think twice about showing to smaller kids.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: This was the first film of the series to be released in IMAX and also the highest grossing film of the series to date.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: While there isn’t much on the DVD in terms of extras, the Blu-Ray has a trivia track as well as a picture-in-picture feature (Undead-Vision) that is one of the better of these type offered. There’s also a nice nod to the gamers who make up the core of the RE audience with a feature on them called “Pwning the Undead: Gamers of the Afterlife.”

BOX OFFICE PERFORMANCE: $296.2M on a $60M production budget; the movie was a big hit.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

NEXT: Captain America: The First Avenger